By Bernice Lee
(974 words, 5 minute read)
I caught Astrid Boons between rehearsals in Korzo for Vestige. She’s preparing to restage the work, rehearsing with a new cast member who had thankfully been part of the original creative process. She shares that coming to Singapore is a result of happenstance: Dimo Kirilov, who presented at M1 CONTACT previously, saw the work last November and recommended it to Festival Director Kuik Swee Boon.
Bernice Lee (BL): I saw that you work with emptying the body of humanness. I’ve been thinking generally about how, in working with the body, gender and identity are so central that it’s almost impossible to completely divest from it. Do you deal with gender in your work?
Astrid Boons (AB): Not specifically. I start from the body, as a vessel. I’m focused on what an alive body is, in a raw space. How a body contrasts other materials that are around. Having said that, I love to work with strong women and bring out the power that we have. I use that a lot, the intensity of women. In Vestige I regard and use the body to express what it can become when the humanness is out. So there could be a man on stage also. It’s not that it needs to be a woman doing this part. It’s rather the beings that are on stage, the organisms – what are they going through? What is happening to them? How are they transforming? What happens when the humanness is being taken out — a vestige is left, a trace of what we used to be. That’s very much in Vestige I think, together with a longing to find ourselves back. We’re going, but I want to keep holding it — it’s passing, time is passing, and it’s just, going. We are left with a trace of what we used to be. What we were.
BL: What do you make of the trace? What did you find in the process?
AB: What I can say is that we have been working a lot with imagining that everything inside the body is going out and we stay with the shell — the skin, the last layer of us. That last layer meets the new layer of the outside air or space around us. We’ve been doing a lot of visualisation and imagination, and found that once you start emptying, it’s such a never-ending process and can go to so many places. But I’m also not actively looking for answers right now, I’m just looking for possibilities.
BL: With questions that are more philosophical and abstract — as a choreographer you manifest it: make a project, fix a duration. Could you talk about how you make decisions about timing?
AB: Timing for me is crucial. Timing can break or make a piece, I think. I work with very long transformative improvisations. I see how or where a transformation needs to lead, start putting points in space, figuring out where we need to go with a transformation. The music and the light follow the dancers. Each performance is kept alive — you’re really seeing a transformation happening as it’s happening. It’s real. And for me that’s very crucial, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.
BL: “Transformative improvisations” — what do you mean?
AB: We spent days in the process just emptying. Only emptying. I never try to do something the exact same way, I don’t think there’s a point to do that. So, who are you today, what is empty for you, today. Our approach is the same but every time we feel it differently. It’s really a trip for us on stage — a real, real trip. To me expressivity is not outwards, it’s actually in, in, in, in, and in, and then out.
BL: I love this question in dance, the inside and outside experience. How has Vestige been received when you’ve performed it?
AB: Very well. Very emotional for a lot of people because I think what you see on stage is so intense at certain points … very physical, and then nothing. And the nothingness becomes so intense, because it’s such a contrast. I think when you’re open for it, it can really take you, make something move in you. I’m very happy when someone tells me “I cannot talk right now”… then I know, okay, it came across.
BL: Could you talk about your influences? You’ve been in the dance world since you were quite young — how’s your journey been?
AB: I’ve been influenced, of course, by every step that I took in my path; every choreographer and every experience feeds you, but what was a very very big revelation — it was really a revelation — was working with Saburo Teshigawara from Japan. He taught me “natural movement”. What is natural movement? What is the natural movement that comes to you when I tell you — move, move in the space. I won’t tell you how. But you move in the space. It’s finding your own natural movement. And that was such a big thing for me. Then also after that process — this was in Gothenburg (Goteboroperans Danskompani) — we had to go back to choreography with steps… we were like… Steps? Why would you do steps? It’s not real! And of course we came back from that, and found the middle way. But he taught me something crucial. He taught real authentic movement — where it comes from, in ourselves. That was so beautiful and I think that has influenced me in my work a lot. I take it in a very different direction, but working with Saburo was crucial for me to be where I am right now.
I search a lot for why we are moving, but I also make from the question of what really drives a body, or a mind, or a person: when other parts, or functions, are being taken away. I work a lot with that.
This article is sponsored by M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival.
Vestige, created by Astrid Boons (Belgium/Netherlands) was shortlisted in the top five performances of 2017 in an Amsterdam-based daily newspaper, Het Parool. It will make its Singapore debut as part of M1 CONTACT Contemporary Dance Festival on 3 & 4 August 2018 at Esplanade Theatre Studio, as part of Binary – International Artists Showcase, in a double bill with Shamel Pitts’s Black Velvet. More information here.
Guest contributor Bernice Lee is a dance artist whose love for language is in its kinetic, felt sense. She sees writing about performance as its own artistic medium, contributing her voice to building positions and perspectives over time. Visit her website here.